Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mommy Warriors: reconsider your opponent.

This isn't going to be a "Why I homeschool" rant. This isn't going to be a "Why you're crazy for not sending your kids to public school" rant. This is my (hopefully) calmly reasoned attempt to find a middle ground, and help myself and my fellow sisters reclaim a little dignity and confidence in our own motherhood.

The war is obvious: "That crazy bitch lets her kids walk to the store by themselves!" " Did you see that woman who breastfeeds her 4yo?"  "Her kid can't read yet, did you hear?" "*I* homeschool because I love my children. ""You know that's what drugs are for, right? You don't get a medal for going natural." "Isn't your baby sleeping through the night yet?" "Little Joey only eats organic food." "She's one of those vegan freaks."

It's totally like the Cornucopia from Hunger Games: Julia grabs a breastpump and a briefcase, which she uses to clock Stay-at-home Sal with, only to be tripped and stabbed with a vaccine syringe by anti-vax Moonbeam (who cackles maniacally that now Sal will suffer from autism). Crunchy Kate gets stabbed from behind with a kebab full of conventional meat while making a grab for some gluten free wafers, while two others duke it out beside the jogging strollers over Team TurtleNeck vs. Team Circumcision.

The crappy part isn't just that we're ripping one another a new one without any conscience. It's also that we're crippling ourselves with guilt and suspicion, causing us to miss out on the diversity of relationship and connections that we need to thrive as a community. While most of us wouldn't claim the title of bigot or homophobic (thankfully), we've become a terrifically narrow minded and prejudiced generation of women.

The awesome part is, we're all doing what we feel is best. We draw from gut feeling, research, experience, knowledge of our own situations, how well we know ourselves and our children, and from the unique vantage point of being essentially the manager of our own families. This is true whether we stay at home, work, work at home; adopt, birth fully medicated in a hospital or with bongo drums in the woods; whether we send our kids to public schools, waldorf, montessori, private schools or the living room table; are blended, parent alone, with a husband or with a partner. We love our children. We make best use of the the gifts we have. We are strong women.

Have you ever seen what happens when you put a lot of strong women in a room together? 

Yeah. Me, too. 

The Mommy Wars start when we're so invested in our choices that, somewhere along the line, we become convinced that our way is The Only Way. Put a lot of people like that in a room (or chatroom) at the same time, and you have what I like to call a FYMURGUYGHACIYPODSEF. (A Frack Your Mind Up Real Good Until Y Go Home And Cry Into Your Pillow Or Decide She's Evil Fest). Women judge one another preemptively, in order to avoid being judged. The media absolutely plays on this insecurity and milks it (pun intended) for all it's worth. If we can identify the "freak", we can reassure ourselves that we're normal. 

Every person involved in such a war goes home saying the same things: "How dare she? Poor idiot. She doesn't know she's totally messed up. I messed up? Is she right? Am I worthy?" Then, the warriors watch for failures and weaknesses in their opponent, to gloat. They reassure themselves with the hardships of others. They turn their own children into proof of their right choices, and launch into nervous self-doubt when the children fail to produce said proof. The mama warriors guard their islands carefully, separate and fighting windmills like addled Spaniard knights. It can rack us with insecurity about ourselves and riddle us with suspicious thoughts about one another. If we don't attack one another directly, we chose to undercut each other through whispered predictions of each other's downfall or gossip about how insane the next girl is. 

How do I know? Because I've done it before, of course. I've also been a victim.  So has every mother in America. Our culture is constantly morphing and changing, and it's no small task try and stay a step ahead of the game, setting our loved ones up for success. We desperately need the stability of traditions and community to keep our balance, and it can be unnerving when our peers chose differently than we do. Difference is inevitable,however, because that is the very nature of change. Life throws us challenges and we all grab the tools best suited to us individually; that is the strong and beautiful nature of the human spirit. What works for you may not work for me. And vice versa. 

It seems, though, that if we're to thrive as communities, nations and as a race, we would need to value one another's children as precious and important (rather than members of a competitive team) and one another co-protectors and nurturers of our own little ones. There is something to be said in a well-rounded approach, strength in numbers and in having many supportive fibers in the safety net that is a village. We need each other. Your children need me. Mine need you. They need to respect each other with tolerance and dignity, too, because they are the mothers and father of their own generation. Humans are social creatures; our strength is in community, adaptability and diversity. Are we really teaching them the value of those things? 

So, I suppose the question I'm asking myself is: what if we grabbed each other's hands, too? Suppose, for instance, that even though you chose differently for yourself, you chose to support my endeavors, or at least be respectful of the fact that I'm doing the best I can? Perhaps I can chose to wholeheartedly jump up and down with you over your successes, even you're walking a different path than I am. You could value my children's uniqueness; I can treasure yours for the amazing people that they are. 

"You mean you'll put down your rock, and I'll put down my sword, and we'll fight each other like civilized people?"

That's not to say that we can't learn from one another; to the contrary, we absolutely have MUCH to teach each other. We all have faults and areas we need to grow in. Obviously, we won't always agree But how can we grow if we're constantly on defense, demonizing one another? . We also all have something useful and valuable in our perspectives to bring to the table (and to the lives of one another's children). The added bonus of this is that we'd get to act out our own choices with ownership and confidence, rather than in defensive reaction to why someone else might chose differently than us. 

Of course there's a time and place to disagree, or to stand up for what we believe in. But are we really honestly doing that, or are we fighting hard against the thing that really frightens the bejibbers out of us: being vulnerable? A mindless kumbaya fest isn't sustainable, obviously, and that's not what I'm driving at. (Though, at this point, a good wine-induced singalong might actually be the best medicine possible! Imagine if we got over our inflated views of ourselves long enough to have a good, old fashioned giggle fest about what makes us similar!) I'm simply saying: perhaps if we all stopped shouting, we'd be able to hear and observe one another's wisdom, and see the beauty in each mother's approach.

Source. :heart: 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Unschooling 2nd week Dec.

At least this year, I'm a committed unschooler. Which basically means, I'm committed to fully seizing moments of curiosity in my children, letting myself get elbow deep in a mutual passion for learning/self-teaching, and letting them learn by asking questions rather than memorizing answers.

This week, our noses naturally led us to explore: polygons, polyhedrons, addition (for my 1st grader, who's now pretty sure she discovered a new concept; love that!), patterns, momentum, friction, some phonics, lots of reading and musical intervals. Rock on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Incentive and Thanksgiving.

Obviously, with four daughters in the house, we do a lot of talking and modeling and hoping for and stressing the importance of treating one another respect and kindness. Equally obvious is the fact that their ages and stages sometimes make it hard for them to remember to be kind or even recognize it as a valid response. This can be frustrating. Therefore, a little behavioral incentive is sometimes in order to actually create the habit of responding with patience or helpfulness first (as opposed to rudeness or cat fights).

So, we made the "random acts of kindness" jar. I drop a colored paperclip into that puppy every time I overhear someone be genuinely helpful or polite or respectful (ESPECIALLY when there was a potential for an angry or impatient reaction). When we get 30 paperclips, we all go to Menchies yogurt (from the proceeds of our coin collection jar :P) What I *don't* do is take paper clips out as punishment, or hang it over their heads as a threat...this is about creating mutual joy and camaraderie. So, they get into the habit of automatic reasonable responses, so they have the mental muscle memory of what that feels like. When they get to a moment of frustration, they have CHOICES. It's rehearsed. They can choose to be rude, but they can also choose to remember their kind words. And, if they all practice enough, they go together and have more fun in celebration of a goal achieved together with pumpkin ice cream and nuts and snicker pieces and chocolate fudge. With money they collected together. It's a baby step for such little girls in the direction toward tolerance and working out problems in a way that honors family and community, and lack of snarling and pulling hair.  And I get 20 min of zero whining. Win-win-win. Gotta dig that triple win.

We had a really lovely Thanksgiving...we traveled all the way to Atlanta, Ga to visit family, and stayed for a long weekend. (My children are now Spiderwick Chronicles fans after listening all the way there, and now blame unfortunate happenings around the house on brownie/boggarts. Joy. XoP)

 We went to the community lighting of the Christmas tree where we suffered through terrible teenage belting
renditions of classics like "Santa Baby", and the kids tried their very first cotton candy ever. (My oldest having avoided spun sugar for 8 years and my baby consuming it at 9 months...albeit her was a tiny amount for the giggle-effect. That's a testament to how lax parental standards get with each additional child ;oP) It was magical. My oldest was horrified when I started PUBLIC.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Mummy Bandwagon

I have pretty strong feelings about teaching history in order, in context and at an age when it's relevant to the child. None of this memorizing stupid poems and dates without understanding the implications nonsense.

Mirth has reached the magical age when ancient history has her completely enamored, and she her reading/emotional/social understanding has matured to the point that she understands the subtler implications of a deeply different culture. (I make a silent "YES!!" motion to the side) 

So we're starting with ancient Sumeria and Egypt. Lark is still back on dinosaurs. She loves her some dinos. 

I took her to the used bookstore where I had to talk her out of an academic level manual an intro to archaeology and ancient Egyptian artifacts (in her defense, she understood some of it, but not all $20 worth XP), and so we settled on several excellent late-elementary level books on mummies, Egyptian culture and the afterlife. 

Then, because I'm much too squeamish at this point to mummify a squirrel >.<, we mummified a Barbie. Wine bath, herbs, perfumed oils, salt rub, amulets...the whole nine yards. The little girls helped make play dough artifacts for her "afterlife" and designed hieroglyphs for her shoe box "tomb". She wasn't a princess, and the first part of her life she was shy, but then, she lived a long, long happy life until she died suddenly and painlessly at the age of 82 in a war, surrounded by family who didn't get hurt. (Lark's version of the perfect life.) 

The following was Mirth's report on ancient Eygpt's burial rituals and afterlife beliefs...and I thought she wasn't listening! 

Tell about what the ancient Egyptians believed about the afterlife: 

      They thought that the soul split into two parts. They believed that the heart got weighed by Maat, who put the heart onto one side of the scale and the heart on the other. If the heart was as light as a feather or lighter, then they had done no bad deeds and they could sail across the Nile river to paradise (their heaven). The person who drove the boat was Ra the sun god. If your heart wasn't light, some sort of demon would eat you up or basically kill you. 

Talk about the mummification process: 
      First, they basically bathed the person in wine to kill the bacteria. Then, they took the organs out. All except the heart. They put the organs into pots or jars. And the brain, which they threw away. They rubbed it in herbsand spices and rubbed oils, frankincense and myrhh. Then, they poured salt all over the body and wrapped it inin cloth for 30 or 40 days. Then, they took the body out of whatever they'd been storing it in, and unwrapped itand wrapped it again in linen. Then they put it inside a stone sarcophagus. They brought it to the tomb and they put pots, food, cups, teapots, servants (poor servants!), sometimes their pets (cats, dogs, hamsters, parrots, parakeets). And, maybe, if they all died at the same time, their family. 
     It was expensive to mummify someone. At first, only kings, queens, princes and princesses were mummified. 
Later, people with enough money could be mummified, too. Thousands of people were mummified after that. 

Not all the facts are perfectly accurate, but it's not a terrible understanding. :O)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Early Birth Memories, Part 1

When I was a girl, no older than 11 or so (I remember because I'd not started shaving the dark, thick hair from my legs and I used to use the scissors from my Nana's office drawer to chop away the fuzzy stuff as I idly thumbed through glossy pages of Reader's Digest in her bathroom), I visited my grandparent's farm in Killen, Alabama late one summer. Their farm was strictly cattle, and most of them had names. They were officially a business venture, but unofficially great stomping pets that both my grandparents had grown remarkably attached to.

I remember having a secret fascination with birth of new things from a young age, and secretly hoped and prayed that my grandfather's favorite heifer might give birth sometime during the long weekend of my family's stay at their home. My younger and brother dawdled the hours away, plunking out tunes on my Nana's warbling old piano and trying to convince young calves to skitter up and let us pet their soaked sandpaper tongues. My grandfather would get up early in the morning and shellac his dark, dark hair with hairspray, put on his heavy denim button up shirt, and then saunter into the kitchen, singing silly old ballads about swamp witches and war, saying "Well, good mawnin', Lizbuth!" (My grandparents are the only people in the world who called me by my middle name, and I always found it strangely endearing. )

Periodically, after we ate piles of buttered toast and grits powder with ground black pepper, he'd walk out to his old farm truck with the slow barreling gait of a bulldog on a mission to do whatever it is that bulldogs do. His skin was deep and lined from years of fishing and woodworking and long hours spent in the sun, and unusually dark for someone of his English descent. Underneath heavy jet black eyebrows, his eyes were watery with aging, but their color was deep and warm, like very dark chocolate. They were probing and playful in turn, and it was always something of a puzzle to me which of the two to expect next. His nose was very flat, and he claimed that it was the result of his older sister holding him down as a child and squashing it down with her thumbs when she was angry with him. I picked up the habit of playfully threatening my younger brother with the very same fate.

At some point between the newspaper and lunch, Papa would whistle down another cup of coffee and hum in a voice that sounded like John Wayne's, if his voice had dropped an octave and been rolled in gravel and dark molasses. I loved to hear him chuckle, a deep, throaty sincere rhythm like no other laugh I've heard since. He'd raised the ceramic rim to his flat, square mouth and announce to my grandmother as if she were inside the cup, "I'm going up yonder to look in on that heifer." 'That heifer', we all knew, was actually referred to her face with deep affection from him as Sunshine. And Sunshine's belly was exactly the taut, glossy bulge of calf that I'd been silently willing to listen to the moon's call for several nights in a row. When I thought about it, my stomach did flip flops of mysterious excitement.

I'd stick my pointy little nose between the thin, metallic blinds and breathe in dust while I watched my Papa stride in his bib overalls out to his pickup, where he'd undoubtedly smoke a cigarette when he thought my brother and I weren't looking. Earthy, knuckle-dragging, lumbering with purpose, hips swinging jauntily from side to side in a masculine fashion; that was my grandfather's walk. After he pulled down the gravel road, my brother and I would shove sun-striped feet into sandals and  tear off after him, ignoring our Nana's hollering from the kitchen, asking where we were off to. If we'd told her, she wouldn't have allowed us to go. Better to claim ignorance than miss out on something potentially more thrilling than the constant drone of sports television.

My father had pointed, rounder elvish features that more closely resembled my own, with circles on the apples of his cheeks and a pert, puckish nose like the one I saw in the mirror and on my brother's face each day. But his eyes were the same warm, dark coffee color as Papa's, and his walk, from behind, was identical. He'd already sauntered out into the field after his father, which was promising. One person out in the field checking on a pregnant cow was routine; two adults out in the field meant something new and exciting was coming. And so there was; Sunshine's belly was visibly clenching, and instead of her usual friendly greeting, she was stamping her feet and rolling her eyes for the men to stay away.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homeschooling preschoolers-age 6

I don't really talk about our schooling situation much, because as a second generation home schooling mom, I don't really have a big internal drive to proselytize. It's simply part of our life. Learning style is a part of who we are and what we do, but I'm not any more vocal about it than say, what brand of yogurt we like.

The Dread Pirate Grace and her ship

Sometimes, though, curious moms will ask me about how we "do" things, wanting more info for their own decisions. I'm not sure I'm qualified to offer advice exactly, but I'll take an official whack at it here.

I'd suggest first starting out by reading Families Where Grace is In Place, because if you're endeavoring to teach your child anything in value in life with an adversarial attitude, you're doomed from the beginning. Maddening experiences will be had by all.

Secondly, I'd promote reading Nurture by Nature, which introduces the idea that each child's individual personality effects the way they relate to others and take in information.  If you expect your child to be your learning clone, then both you and he/she will end up incredibly frustrated, feeling fairly bad about your basic selves. If you've ever printed some adorable project off Pinterest and had experience end up an epic horror show, and if you've stood there blinking, wondering why your tot didn't enjoy it...this book is worthy of your time and attention. It's an easy, painless read, and it's relatively easy to identify your child's basic style pretty quickly.

For the last reading suggestion, I'll recommend Last Child in the Woods, which addresses the unfortunate habit our culture has developed of placing small children indoors in a chair, expecting them to do written work about the world before they've had a chance to actually go out and OBSERVE the world around them in context. Excellent read, even if you just skim.

Now. I don't know if this qualifies as wisdom, but it's certainly a heartfelt opinion based on things I've observed in my own family, which you may take with a grain of salt or the whole margarita.

Read to your small children. Pick classic books or thoughtful fiction or stories, filled with beautiful descriptive language. Randomly stop at words and sound out the letters when you're reading together (no need to make them do it, just do it in front of them.) It'll become apparent what your child is interested in and what they aren't. Listen to books on tape in the car. Talk to them. Make up stories together. Converse with them as if they're intelligent (they are), explaining the meaning of words at random if they look confused. Describe what you're doing as you cook, fish, garden, sew, shop, dance or whatever it is that you fill your days doing. Enjoy yourself, and don't be so serious!

Put them in the way of fascinating things, and let them do what comes naturally to children! Place them in environments where their natural gifts come alive.

Teach them to pay for things. Let them cook things. Let them build fires outside, climb trees, play in streams, lick rocks and catch enormous bugs. Talk about those things with them. Let them have their own conversations in public. Let them order their food at restaurants, if they're ready and able to do it well. Have them ask for directions for things they need in the store. Teach them to ask intelligent questions. Involve them in conversations with interesting people. Teach them how to put on their own bandages, clean their own wounds, scrub their own nails, pour their own drinks, and recognize their own need for rest.

For the love of pete, don't ever let your own pride and desperate need for recognition from some critical friend or family member tempt you to reduce your preschooler or toddler into a trick-doing parrot trained to impress others with long lists of memorized facts. (Such people are life-sucking vortices of doom, and you can almost never satisfy them. It's better to grow thicker skin, or, better yet, grow happily and purposefully oblivious to their tongue clucking over your 3yo who can't say her ABCs yet.)

Small children are naturally driven by curiosity and a love for discovering things, but this can be overridden by an even stronger basic animal need if it's withheld like a dangled carrot: the need for love and approval from a parent. Some will defy you (and rightly so), but some will dutifully jump through your silly hoops just to see you beam at them. The cost of turning your wee one into a performing monkey can come back to bite you in the ass, though, in the form of loss of creativity and free thinking (and sometimes, honest relationship free from need of approval). And you force your very small children to perform "learned" facts for the standards of other people, you will have turned them into yourself; unable to cope without the approval and recognition of opinionated others.

Let them get lost in hours of pretend. Toss out the toys that leave no room for any imagination. Let them dump endless buckets of water into trenches they dig in the back yard and watch how the water takes the path of least resistance. Notice with them how ants walk in a long line, and how they carry things bigger than their own bodies. Feed birds in the winter and go hunting for squirrel nests when all the leaves are gone. Pretend to be hibernating bears under couch cushion forts.

In other words...don't make them "do school". Let them be humans. Incorporate words and counting and letters as they naturally occur throughout the day, without sweating "how much" they retain as evidenced through constant quizzing. They have plenty of time for all that later. Teach them how to learn about things with their own minds and hands and observations, and they'll learn the facts of the world...and later, you come back and give what they've already observed names. It's easier to learn once you have a solid grasp on your own physical abilities and what things look/smell/taste/sound/act/behave/sound like. :)


Friday, August 17, 2012

Lots of positive notes together make a happy tune...

This week, my older girls have been sick, which means lots of potion-pushing for me and lots of couch-surfing for them. We've had some bright spots, though. You know those where you realize that all your efforts mean something in parenting (or, perhaps, your children are growing up nifty despite you)? Those make me grin. They're worth sharing when they happen, if for no other reason than to be able and come back and remind myself on the hard days that growth is there. Slow sometimes, perhaps, but steady. That's what we're shooting for.

I don't kid myself into thinking that my kids grow because of me or anything I do...I think my main goal is to simply not obstruct growth and give them everything they need to thrive!

Happy thing #1

Mirth has days when she goes WAY over and beyond normal patience levels to help Grace be successful. This is no small feat, considering the fact that Grace is currently three years old all. day. long. She's a lovely, smart, strong, lovely person who will probably feel more at home in her brain and skin when she's about, oh, 30. I can relate. She was born an old soul, and the indignity of potty training and not knowing everything and not being able to get things to work the way she'd like gets to her.

Enter Mirth. For whatever reason, she has a way about her that really speaks to younger kids, and she treats them with cheerful good-natured respect, and gets a real kick out of seeing them gain independence and skills. (Quite possibly because she remembers when she was three and her quest for world dominion was thwarted by rules, small stature and insufficient arm span.) If there's merit to the karma theory, she's working herself out of debt quickly with her fantastic patience with her sister and quick-witted charm. Rock on Mirth.

Happy thing #2:

Also, she made me a spa. Candles and all after I'd gotten done cleaning up dinner. Who cares if there were duplos and my little ponies and toy dump trucks? There were sandalwood and cedar bath salts.  Can't beat that.
Happy thing #3:
My girl brings me flowers every time she goes out. {sniff sniff} Thank you, Grace. Such a sweetie pie.

Happy thing #4: 

Lark is my little lactavist. She's very dedicated to the idea that all babies, even the mermaid ones, should have "boobie" for as long as they want. Amen. (And let us all breathe a prayer of thanks that she is no longer shrieking "Booooooohoooooobieeeeee!" every time she's sad in the grocery store anymore.) 

That's a lot of happy. It makes me feel lucky to get to be a part of it all. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bright, Magical, Loquacious Duplos

Today, we learned about sentence structure and adjectives with Duplo blocks!

We taped washi tape (what we had on hand, but you could use masking tape as well, since it comes off easily without sticky residue) and wrote a word on each block: a mixture of nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions we could think of. We left the adjectives in blue, since that's the part of speech we were focusing on! :O)

Then, we built! The girls put together some fun very short stories, and had a good bit of fun for about forty minutes....then we saved them in a basket for a review next week to keep things interesting!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Examining Electra's Placenta (video)

This is for the birth junkies out there...if you winced at just reading the word placenta, be reasonable and don't watch. ;oP Otherwise, it's supah-nifty. {grin}

Here are some non-graphic photos of our placenta print! {hearts}

 Thanks to the big girls for helping, and thanks, placenta, for growing such an amazing little human. :O) 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Cautionary Tale: the importance of living in your "sweet spot"

A few years ago, I went through a phase (some of y'all will recall this with giggles) when I decided I needed to have a farm. And a recycling center. And knit/weave/sew all our own clothing. And church butter, make cheese and go ALL little house on the prairie on my own suburban ass. There was a point at which my idealist self and my actual tolerance for noise/clutter/strict routine/manual labor were at all out war with one another, and mostly, everyone involved was losing. I remember distinctly one day in the early summer trying to herd a loose chicken back into it's cage while dragging a water hose up to the rabbit hutches with a then-baby Grace on my back, squinting up at the dozen of cloth diapers flapping in the breeze on the porch and groaning internally as I remembered I still needed to water the zucchini, potatoes and herbs....and longing to be inside with a book. One of the older girls yelled from the house, "Lark flooded the toilet again and I don't have any clean underwear!!"  I literally started sobbing right then and there.

^reality collides with vision.^
My ideals were choking the ever-loving life out of me. I think what had been envisioned was completely fulfilled living, with my conscious completely at ease and my life full of the "wholesome" wonders of outdoor working, animals and hard earned produce. It would be our own crunchy utopia/nirvana. These romanticized ideas of what it might be like to redeem my humanity through creating my own little eco-bubble were grossly mismatched to reality, however. (My close friends, Barefoot and I still laugh hysterically sometimes until I snort gin and tonic out my nose over "the summer when we all tried to be farmers".) It was, in a word,  horrible.

I tried to grin and muscle through the awkwardness, but it couldn't be helped; I hated "homesteading". So many little baby chicks died under my care, despite my earnest efforts, I don't even like to recall the trauma of it. I hated the heat, weeds, chicken-chasing, the fact that I had no time for my children (or myself, for that matter) and constant stream of poop. Oh, the blasted, ubiquitous SHIT.  In the diapers, under my nails, in bags, in the vegetable beds, in my shovel, in the chicken house, under the rabbit cage, in the kitty litter box, on my shoes and even occasionally on the floor. None of it was even mine. My mind SCREAMED for stimulation beyond constant poo exposure, or, pooxposure, if you will. I saw it when I closed my eyes in bed at night, no lie. Visions of shit danced in my head.

My happiest and best contribution to the whole fiasco was painting happy, giant sunflowers onto the beautiful chicken house Barefoot Man built me. That should have tipped me off to the fact that my skills were best elsewhere employed. 

I just stood there aghast at the fact that my own reality completely betrayed the ideals in my head. Self, meet the unbalanced, perseverating combination of extroverted-sensing driven by immature introverted intuition. 

Eventually, our neighbors complained about the smell and noise of the animals, and we gave them all to smiling farmers who were happy to take them. We were so depressed over it (so we thought) that we took off on a trip to the Grand Canyon, letting everything just go to seed, and had a wonderful time. It was a relief to not be tied down to the schedule of anything other than our own sweet selves. I felt a sickening thrill when I walked through the weedy backyard to see that everything in the garden was dead, and it was too late to plant again that year. Sheer bliss.

There's a point to all this, I swear, and here it comes:

In contrast to my abject failure at self-sustaining living, my friend Jennifer enjoys everything about gardening. She runs a project for a community garden and enjoys teaching children about growing things. Everything she touches flourishes, and she wears a broad, deeply tanned earthy smile whenever she talks about it. When we make it to the farmer's market, I enjoy buying produce from her stand and she enjoys providing it. If I had to venture a guess as to why, I'd say she draws such life from gardening because it's her gift. She's in her place of effortless life-flow when she's caring for growing plants, and it doesn't seem to spark any amount of resentment or desperation in her at all. What's more the end product is amazing. The strawberries that come out of her garden or beyond compare. They're juicy sunshine and sweetness in a bite, almost sinful. She makes playing in shit look good. Sexy, even.

Which brings me to the thought: the gift we have to offer the world already lies within us. We're likely already doing some form of it, because it comes naturally to us and brings us such unadulterated joy. I enjoy seeing children's faces light up as I give them the opportunity to discover things on their own, providing comfort to those in pain and making others smile with my thoughts. This isn't difficult for me; in fact, I think if I'm honest, it's laughably effortless! I've had to learn skills to support the expressions of these gifts, but my mind is already so drawn to them, it's not a difficult stretch. I can "run" fast and far in these areas for a long time without getting tired. Work, yes; torturous, no.

This is the point at which my intuition and global-minded tenancies go a few rounds before coming to an understanding. I (like many other bleeding hearts) have the penchant for looking at the world as a whole and identifying the areas of social structure that are causing pain and suffering or destruction, and then imagining theories of what should be done about it. Which is all well and good. The trouble, for me, comes when I confuse my "gift" to the world (understanding the problem) with the fixing of the problem, and try to offer myself up as the remedy. Negative outcomes usually ensue when I embrace this confusion, especially if that prescribed remedy is raising chickens. You have the rough equivalent of a blind prophet predicting a war, and then saddling a horse and trying to spear the enemy. Bad idea. In this scenario, usually the neighbor's cow ends up impaled.

That doesn't mean I don't do practical things about fixing The Issues. I recycle. (hooray me!) I buy a lot of clothing secondhand, for both economical and earth-related reasons. I encourage mothers while learning to breastfeed, and try to promote education of healthy attachment. I support local farmers by often buying their delicious food. I use biodegradable household products. The earth and it's inhabitants are important to me, and, as far as I can without hurting anyone, including myself, I look after it. Most importantly, probably, I try to encourage and enable  those who were born with that green thumb and pioneer moxie to do what it is they do best, and cheer them on wholeheartedly. (All this while backing slowly away from the chicken wire and power saw.)

That is, after all, my sweet spot. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

National Breastfeeding Week!

There's always so much dust stirred up in the mama world around the breastfeeding issue, probably because it's very important and also very personal.

In our house, though, it's simply breakfast, lunch and dinner! Over the past 8 years, I've breastfed about 7 of those years, and it's a decision I'd make all over again in a heartbeat. I've also tandem nursed (nursed two babes at once), and extended breastfed my older three. They weaned at ages 3, 4 and 3. Electra, of course, is currently nursing. While some might call that freakish, we simply call it "life". Thanks to my sweet four girlies for being such precious babies, to my husband for being so supportive and nurturing of his kids and to my own mom for breastfeeding me when I was small. I'm also grateful to my veteran mamas friends and my midwife for being my "tribe" and helping me understand that I could trust my own instincts.

My first week of breastfeeding was hell on a stick, I won't lie. I didn't understand the mechanics, I tried to "schedule" my baby (the foolishness and folly of that still make me chuckle) and, well, I was a young'un myself, practically. However, I discovered there was a learning curve, and after that, I appreciated all the many benefits that came from sticking with it. (By the time my 2nd daughter was born, it was a cakewalk. They handed me baby, baby latched easily and mama was blissed out while eating steak with one hand and texting loved ones birth stats in the other. Gotta love an experienced mind and body. XoD)

Even if you chose not to breastfeed, or are a guy and can't XoP, the next time you see a tired looking mama giving nurture and life to her wee one (especially if she's parenting others simultaneously), instead of looking down your nose at the face of life in motion, applaud her and thank her for making the world a better place. :O)

In the words of John C.S. Abbott, "Mothers have as powerful an influence over the welfare of future generations as all other earthly causes combined". 

What could be sweeter and more powerful than supporting and approving of a mother who is performing the quiet act of simply nourishing her child's body and heart? If you're looking for a leverage point in society to bring about positive change in the world, you've found it! Healthy bonds, secure children, strong bodies, strong hearts. Viva la Vida!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mandala "stained glass" with wax paper and sharpies.

It always makes me sad when I see a lovely art project idea that actually requires drawing. I love beauty and can sometimes execute creative ideas with some amount of skill, but the form and perspective fairy skipped right on over me in the womb. ;oP

That's exactly how I felt when I saw this: (Girl's got SKILLS already! Way to go!)

Lovely in theory, impossible in practice for me.

So, thought I, let's just use printable mandala coloring sheets and trace the pattern that makes us most happy, and then color in with sharpie markers like the original idea! That's exactly what we did. :)

First, taped down the corners of large sheets of wax paper to the table (if your artists are prone to messiness, you probably want a plastic table cloth, too...we chose to tempt fate, as usual). Then, slide your printed mandala of choice under the middle of the wax paper and trace with a bold black Sharpie. 

(I ran a small fan beside the table, because the marker fumes probably aren't the greatest to nice weather, an open window would do nicely.)

Then, we filled in the pattern with colored markers! (I own a ridiculous collection of Sharpies, but you could make a nice pattern with just three or four colors.) The trick is carefully coloring right up to the black line, but not crossing it, or the colors smear. Good fine motor skill practice, good concentration skill work.

(The very small of us used watercolor paints, since they wash out more easily...this is Grace's "Ocean with coral and lots of fish!") 

Lark chose a slightly less complicated pattern that suited her attention span. :)

Then, trim down your wax paper and tape to the window! Tada!
in the rain

in the sun

Not quite as cool as DIY artwork, but a fun thing to do on a rainy afternoon. :)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pre-coffee ethics.

Today, my 3yo found some pet nail clippers a sibling forgot to put away, and cut the tip off her Phineus doll's nose.

I found her and 5yo Lark pulling out bits of stuffing, saying, "Sorry, Phineus, but we have to take out your nose meat." (aka, fluffy stuffing)

Finding this unsettling but not taking time to reflect before speaking, I exclaimed, "Oh, NO!! People aren't meat, sweets. Meat is something you eat. We don't eat people. It's not kind to cut off someone's nose." (I realized all logical errors as soon as it exited my mouth, and my funny perceiving daughter said:)

"Yeah, but tigers and sharks eat people. So I guess we really ARE meat, too, to some animals."


"Also, mommy {gentle pat on the shoulder}, don't worry, it's just a doll."

I smile wanly. I had it coming.

Note to self: No more arguing ethics with an open minded 5yo before lunch. All my base are belong to her.

Friday, July 20, 2012

INFJ Brain Jumble and Scripting

Introverts are not necessarily shy. We do, however, wear out socially and need much less external stimulation than the average bear before we become grouchy and depleted. If our brains are already occupied with something or if we've already spend a good deal of time talking to others, words come at a high price for us. It's literally harder to force them out of our tired brains and out our mouths in an order that is kind and makes any sense at all to anyone else.

Being an introverted intuitive, this is especially true. I think in nuances, pictures, and ideas, all of which can be well married to words given enough time. When forced to deal with mundane external stimuli (and worse, direct my children through it successfully), this becomes a good deal harder, because my brain is bombarded information that my intuitive brain finds irrelevant to the task at hand and starts to shut down.

Aka, The Trip To The Grocery Store. {shudder}

Sometimes, shopping alone isn't an option. 
In this scenario, my poor introverted thinking process becomes so inundated with detail such rapid-fire information from List and children and Other People that it starts to short circuit. My usually carefully chosen words and directions start to sound like hilarious gibberish.  It becomes like an evil auto-correct that can't be tamed. Usually, my thinking reaches into bins of basically organized or related words and sifts through until it finds the right one to express exactly what I hope to convey, and my connection-driven feeling checks it over right before it exits my mouth for good measure. But when I'm short-circuiting, my mind blindly plunges it's hand frantically into whatever storage box of words is most handy and pulls out whatever it can get it's fingers firmly around, and it spits haltingly out of my mouth like a broken nail gun.

"Hey Lark, I need you to walk around the cart and walk beside me. We need to leave room for other customers to walk by" becomes, "Hey, Mirth, I really will you to run on top of the cart, no, beside me! Walk behind me. BESIDE me! You need to leave room for the potatoes to grab whatever is, erm, necessary." {dammit!} Hilarity ensues. "Mirth, we need Porcupines. Popsicle! Stop laughing and put the porcupines in the cart. POPSICLES! Sit down, Grace, sit on your nuts. Butt! Not you, ma'am, sorry."

It can be humiliating. 

And, so, today, I got caught in the trap of trying to reason with a crying 3yo in the grocery store, while using this garbled brain-talk, in effort to make it to the checkout line and home without a giant scene. It was a bad choice. The correct choice would have been to grab the cheapest source of protein off the shelf, open it and allow her to consume it while saying the only words I can eek out correctly under duress: "I love you". Instead, I growled, over-explained, insisted and lectured in garbled INFJ-tongue until she stared at me with complete slack-jawed puzzlement with about 14 other confused customers. It's possible they thought I'd become a stroke victim. 

(I comfort myself by forming this plan: next time, grab the granola bars. Or leave the kids at home. )

Therefore, since life with four children OFTEN requires me to be entirely overstimulated, I find well-rehearsed scripts really helpful. I learned the idea from some parent-friends who started parenting long before me and were kind enough to pass the wisdom along. The basic idea of scripting is this: if it's a recurring issue, formulate something that is A) kind/reasonable B) short and easy to understand C) consistent so that your reaction becomes consistent. 

Think fast!!
In my head, it's twofold: I plan out what I will say (based on what is best and kind for everyone in the situation, be it an instruction/comfort/reflection of feelings/boundary) and then what I will do to follow up what I said. And when the situation arises, I do The Plan. And I don't have to reach into brain-bins for words on the fly. I have the Frozen Dinner of parenting instructions all made-up and ready to nuke on demand. :OP Some moments of parenting are slow simmering and savory and beautiful and comforting, and other moments require us to dole instructions out like frozen burritos in the heat of the moment. The words aren't what they'll say at your effigy (hopefully), but they do have a place and purpose in day to day life. 

This is especially comforting to my kids, too, because they know what to expect and my parenting is more consistent. Obviously, they have to be re-vamped from time to time, for age, effectiveness or situation. But the basic gist is the same. 

Some of my frequent flyers are: 

"If you don't leave the park/your friend's house/the restaurant well, then you won't come back for a few weeks. (and we don't.) My time and energy is worthy of respect, too." 

When getting into the carseat: "First we sit and buckle, then we can talk about getting other things." 

"Hitting isn't kind/OK?productive. You may find another way to show your frustration, or you may go cool off somewhere." (I use "kind" "OK" or "productive" according to which child I'm speaking to, and what makes them tick) 

"Wiping isn't optional." 

"Alive things are not acceptable projectiles." 

"Here are your options: X and Y. Would you like to try that alone, or do you need some help?" (chosing neither mean I get to chose.) 

"Being harsh about the bravely shared thoughts of others is NOT cool. Disagree in a safe way or keep your mouth shut." 

And no matter how I'm reacting emotionally in that moment, my response to the situation is the same, because I have a plan in place. I don't need to lose my head over anything or fumble around for words like a drunk person in the dark looking for house keys. I have an appropriate response ready. This is a HUGE boon for the easily exhausted introvert (or any parent, for that matter). 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Scrub Days.

Some days, all my best laid plans and ideas for the day just. aren't. working. Getting little minds and hands corralled into any activity is like trying to herd drunken cats. Or juggle them. It's difficult.

I used to end these days crying after everyone was asleep, in my favorite "comfort" pajamas over a carton of vanilla greek yogurt, asking my cat questions like: "Why is this so hard? Why can't I get them to follow this awesome plan? Am I failing all my kids completely? Why do I SUCK?! Do you even care?"

Then, on one of Those Days, I noticed something. I'd stuck everyone in the car and released them into a big park with a field, in effort to not yell at anyone harshly out of frustration. (Don't pretend now. We all do that sometimes. ;oP ) They meandered into a giant pavilion with a sandpit and so immersed their minds in play and their toes in sand that they stayed there happily for 3 full hours. It struck me that this is probably what they needed all along.

So now, when a day's just not working, I scrub all plans. Done. There's now nothing on the docket, except sitting and waiting for the day to tell us what needs to happen for us all to find our balance again. The answer always presents itself, eventually, and it's usually the youngest of us that discovers the truth first. (More often than not, if you let the youngest member of the family set the barometer for the day, things are bound to be more successful all around, in my experience, which sort of flies in the face of conventional wisdom I suppose.)

Sometimes, the solution is a day doing nothing but reading in bed together. Sometimes, we have an impromptu trip to the park. Often, it's building elaborate tents and tunnels with quilts and chairs and tables, and pretending until people fall asleep under a hideout or indoor makeshift hammock. Another favorite go-to is gross motor movement activities like tree climbing or building dams in streams with rocks or scaling giant wood chip mounds. Almost invariably, sour moods are put right again, tempers stop flaring and the pointless urgency of the atmosphere drains lazily out of the day like water out of a long, luxurious bath.

Grace and Lark's bear cave
Sometimes, we simply toss pillows in the floor and watch movies together while eating popcorn (everyone gets their OWN bowl.) If we need to run out and grab snacks just to get through that day, so be it. (And who says anyone needs matching shoes anyway? There are days for nice outfits and matching shoes, and then there are days to celebrate the hilarity of being a little ridiculous!)

Most importantly, there's no pushing through or powering ahead when everyone's got a bad case of "the stupids" (you know, the days when every instruction is met with a blank stare), or the grumpies, or when the whole family is just restless in general. There's only stopping and trying to find our bliss on Scrub days. And that's OK.

It's OK because Scrub Days are about finding something our routine made us leave behind. Relationship. Connection. Alone time. Fantasy. Imagination. Our inner monkey. When we give ourselves time to honor the part inside us that's screaming for air and sustenance, so that we can become balanced people again. Then we can move forward and think about words like "accomplishment" and "rhythm" and "planning".

 All work and no play makes Jane a dull/grouchy/spaced out/whiny/incomplete girl. So instead pecking away at the impossible, we relax and let our Muses carry us effortlessly to where we needed to go in the first place. Does it look indulgent and lazy to others? Sure. Who cares! We know it's wise. We know it works. And that's really all that matters.

Getting lost in wonderland.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Teaching Latin Roots with Harry Potter spells

I'm about to get my nerd on. You've been warned.

The nicest thing my mom ever did for me was the teach me how to read. Also high on the list was to teach me basic greek and latin language  roots, and the reason is simple: if a person knows basic word roots, that person can decode the majority of words they encounter without a dictionary or being a hard-core etymologist. That's always a plus.

I'm also a fan of learning being painless, and not having my children spending their lives poring over flashcards. Who wants to do that? I never did.

This is where I want to kiss J. K. Rowling on the smacker. Thank you, Mme Rowling, for being so freakishly imaginative and delightful in your attention to every little detail of the Harry Potter world.  Pssst! This is the skip-able part where I'll provide a little  info for all y'all who believe magic is something nasty Satan pulled out of his underwear (it's OK, I won't tease you...too much) or for those who have been perfecting meditation in a remote monastery (an admirable pastime!). A lot of the fantastic curses, hexes, charms and spells from the wizzarding world are based fairly accurately on latin words that reflect the nature of the magic performed. For instance, Aqua Eructo (water, to raise)  is the spell for producing a raised jet or stream or water. Many of them can be broken down and explained with basic latin roots. 

So we like decoding spells. First, we use dry erase markers on windows to explain the basic root and tease out words commonly used in our language which contains parts of said latin roots. Then, I write up several spells (Mirth has most of them memorized from the books already!) and we notice how the root meaning matches the result of the spell! It's way more fun than I just made it sound. :D 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book dramas for the kinesthetic learner

Today's reading lesson consisted of reading through "Guess How much I Love You" (Lark's choice), helping her recognize letters and sounds, and prompting her through words that follow basic phonetic rules such as "big", "nut", "bed", "in", "up" and the like. Then, we donned some stretchy legging ears and turned our living room into a veritable warren. 

Fun was had by most. Electra would have rather been napping. ;oP

In which she shamelessly destroys Ben Folds songs for her own purposes.

I know I can pop out some freakin' awesome babies,
In fact, I am told that a lot.
Now I know that all the late nights,
Sore nipples and latch work has brought me here

And what on earth could make me grin,
Before I kissed your triple chin
And I know that you are, you are
You are the fluffiest!

What if I'd been born fifty years before you
I'm sure that would be hell on my vag
But then I could have cooked while you nursed on the floor 
Due to the sag

And around my wide hips I would spy
Your awesome scrumptious baby thighs
And I'd still know:

That you are, you are
You are the fluffiest.

I love you more than chocolate fudge,
You've got the sweetest baby {pudge}. (It's yummmmmmy....)

Next door there's a kid whose eyes disappear
'Neath his cheeks, nice  and  deep, when he smiles
But to call him cute just does not compute
when I compare him to you my sweet child

I'm sorry I know that's a strange way to tell you how I know
You're the best....
Obviously. :heart: 

But obviously,

You are, you are, you are the fluffiest. ;OP

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rainbow feet.

I've sat down five times to complete this post, but, because I"m a mother of small children, it's just not happening.

This week was a very long week, emotionally, for reasons that have nothing to do with my kids or Barefoot Man. However, being a parent doesn't stop, not even for the heartbroken. There were still dirty bums, still quarrels to sort out, still meals to cook, still a hot car to climb into, still groceries to haul, still piles and piles of laundry to process and still things to teach and learn.

And because this weekend was "catch up" weekend, while Barefoot Man took the older two fishing, the littles and I stayed at home. They napped and watched an endless loop of Dora the freaking Explorer while I worked my ass off. And all I want out of life is an hour to myself in silence.

Lark is currently trying to cheer me up by singing a love song AT me at the top of her lungs. Electra is jabbering away "mamamama" at me while she digs her little pointy toenails into my already raw thighs. Grace cried about me not loving her while I hugged and rocked and cajoled and slathered sweet words on her like icing on a grumpy cupcake until she passed out from the long day (mercifully). Mirth is practicing the 7.5 year old ritual of informing me about facts I just recently taught her as if educating me (this is her way of double checking information, and a bit of a nasty habit ;oP )

I. am. spent.

I've nothing clever to say.

I do, however, have a lovely picture that was the brain child of both Barefoot and I...the footprints were his idea, and the rainbow colors was mine. :O) It's brightening our back doorstep splendidly. We used basic acrylic paint (such as Plaid brand), and will seal them over with a clear outdoor patio sealer. Fun! :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Language and individual learning pace.

My firstborn daughter started reading words, I kid not, at the age of 2.75. She kind of ruined me for teaching there for a while, because I literally just gave her a general set of rules once or twice, answered her questions, and she took off little a dogged rocket to the moon. She loves finding the word that fits each situation *perfectly*, and is generally undaunted by the fact that they're not commonly used. Lemony Snicket is a particular favorite of hers, because of the non-condescending use of complex language. (Today, whilst playing a round of "find your family member amongst the sea of stalls in the public bathroom, Mirth informed me, "Mom, I'm in the penultimate stall! That means next-to-last!!" I love that she felt the need to explain. ;P) 

 My second born uses language beautifully and descriptively, always with a lyrical lilt to her stories and observations. She has not, however, cared much about the ins and outs of reading up until this year. That would have required sitting still long enough to listen to boring rules. However, through some creative engineering of learning moments involving casual songs and movement, Lark's interest has been piqued and she wants to learn. (I hide in the closet pumping my fists in a silent cheer...books = hours of quiet entertainment) She's almost six. I'll take it. 

She's a VERY kinesthetic learner, and loves weaving art and stories and imagination into her world of words, and this is one of her favorite games: stick the appropriate letter sticky note on the object that contains it's sound. My favorite is the "body parts of your siblings" variation. XoP

In other news, Electra (five months now!) has learned to say "mama" this week! It's the funniest thing to watch someone so little so piping pleased with herself for being able to command mama's immediate attention with a word. Hurrah, wee girl!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mom's Ransom Box-My take on it.

Once again, another awesomely unique idea is homogenized for the masses by Pinterest. This time, I don't care. The hot summer clutter was getting out of control, and this is working beautifully. I love that it's mutually respectful; you get a chance to earn your stuff back, and my time/energy is also not wasted. Good teaching device. I like it.

**Evil Witch Cackle: It's working, it's woooorking!!!**

Our favorite hot weather activities

We live in a part of the world that translates the word Summer into "burning, oppressive cauldron of hellish doom". Least that paints a charming, lazy picture in your mind, let me assure you: the sun here can be doggedly miserable.

Early last week, we were getting up early and hitting the blueberry fields before noon rolled around and sweat started trickling freely down our backs, and that was cool. We could slide the canoe into the water on the weekend and go fishing in the shade before our skin started to sizzle, and that was reasonable. But this past little while, the afternoons have been around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat gauge from our oven thermometer informed us sagely that unless we preferred life at a crispy 200 F inside the car, we'd better stay OUT.

So, we've done things indoors. It's been fun inventing ways to not go insane, and I mean that with no sarcasm. Like a snow day, with much, much, MUCH less snow.

One day, we invented a massive "playing doctor" drama, complete with nametags, X rays and a "cast".

The process went something like:

1. Cut old National Geographics into strips. Also cut fabric into looooong strips. Print off most accurate-looking version of a leg-break that matches your pretend scenario. (Ours was a woman walking her dogs and slipping on a banana peel on the sidewalk.)
2. Invent doctor personas. Mirth and Lark went with Bones and House, MD.
3. Enact banana slippage, hopefully without hurting yourself, and be forced to drink about a gallon of "precautionary antibiotics", aka, water with Rescue Remedy in it.
4. Have cloth wound around foot as a protective layer, and then watch "Drs" apply glue-soggy strips on top to form a cast.
5. Endure several episodes of Walking with Cavemen while you wait for it to dry. (If we ever do it again, we'll be rustling up a plastic babydoll with no household responsibilities or toilet needs. )

We also had good times with cheap masking tape. There were several murals and an obstacle course, and the play lasted for an afternoon and an evening until bedtime. (Lark decided a helmet was needed for the obstacle races, "just in case".) I love that masking tape comes off hardwoods without a hitch, and it all comes up in about 4 minutes. Can't beat that for $3.

We also baked cookies in the car. I kid not. They were all the way done after 2.5 hours. (I used a gluten free mix with coconut oil, but I doubt that would effect the results much). The girls were amused, and I was pretty impressed, as well.

about halfway through baking process.